Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties treated well by Wall govern­ment

The Southwest Booster - - OPINION - COLIN CRAIG

Saskatchew­an is grow­ing and needs to spend more money on things such as roads and sew­ers to ac­com­mo­date more people. Few would ar­gue with that claim. But given some of the huge tax in­creases mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are pass­ing on to tax­pay­ers, one can rightly ask – why are the tax in­creases so high? What are mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties do­ing with all the buck­ets of money the provin­cial govern­ment has been giv­ing them?

Con­sider that Regina re­cently passed a 5.88 per cent property tax in­crease and Saskatoon passed a 7.43 per cent in­crease. Look around the prov­ince and you will prob­a­bly find sim­i­lar, large in­creases by mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties this year or within the past cou­ple years.

Yet, both Regina and Saskatoon have ben­e­fit­ted from huge in­creases in fund­ing from the provin­cial govern­ment. In fact, al­most ev­ery mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the prov­ince is much fur­ther ahead than they were six years ago.

In 2007-08, Regina and Saskatoon re­ceived $15.7 mil­lion and $17.8 mil­lion re­spec­tively from the provin­cial govern­ment un­der the Mu­nic­i­pal Rev­enue Shar­ing pro­gram. The pro­gram uses a for­mula to trans­fer the equiv­a­lent of one point of the prov­ince’s five per cent provin­cial sales tax.

As of 2013-14, the an­nual fund­ing to both ma­jor cities has sky­rock­eted; $41.0 mil­lion for Regina and $47.3 mil­lion for Saskatoon. That’s an in­crease of more than 160.

Look­ing at the prov­ince over­all, trans­fers from the Wall govern­ment to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have in­creased by 108 per cent since 2007-08; well above the rate of in­fla­tion; even when you ac­count for pop­u­la­tion growth. In to­tal, the Wall govern­ment trans­ferred $264 mil­lion to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties this year.

You’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing “what’s the catch?” There must have been a num­ber of big losers from the ar­range­ment right? Af­ter all, many mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers rou­tinely claim they don’t have enough money. But there isn’t a catch. The Cana­dian Tax­pay­ers Fed­er­a­tion looked at govern­ment data posted on­line and cal­cu­lated that only seven of the 797 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties listed in the prov­ince’s data ta­bles re­ceived less in 201314 than they did in 2007-08.

So here is where you come in. If your mu­nic­i­pal­ity has been hik­ing taxes sub­stan­tially, or if it has been cry­ing that it doesn’t re­ceive enough money from the provin­cial govern­ment, go to the provin­cial govern­ment’s Mu­nic­i­pal Re­la­tions page onl i n e (­nic­i­­ing/Mu­nic­i­pal-Rev­enue-Shar­ing) and look up the num­bers for your mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Then try ask­ing your mu­nic­i­pal politi­cians – “what have you done with the ex­tra money?”

Have they used it to grow their bu­reau­cracy? Big wage hikes? Have the funds been spent on some­thing that isn’t re­ally a ne­ces­sity for the com­mu­nity?

Per­haps your mu­nic­i­pal­ity is one of the ones that haven’t both­ered do­ing any­thing about the Mu­nic­i­pal Em­ploy­ees Pen­sion Plan prob­lem. The amounts mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have had to con­trib­ute per em­ployee (in dol­lars) sky­rock­eted by 51 per cent from 2010 to 2013. That’s the type of prob­lem that needs to be ad­dressed so that provin­cial fund­ing doesn’t get flushed down the drain on pen­sion costs rather than be­ing used for in­fra­struc­ture.

Con­versely, if your mu­nic­i­pal­ity is a lean, mean oper­a­tion ma­chine and can point to re­cently paved road­ways or a sewer sys­tem up­grade as ex­am­ples of putting provin­cial dol­lars to good use, give your elected of­fi­cials a pat on the back.

One thing is clear; mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties can hardly blame the Wall govern­ment. When it comes to cut­ting them cheques, the provin­cial govern­ment has been more than gen­er­ous.

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